In past years, FX's crime drama "Justified," based on a character from a story by novelist Elmore Leonard, has featured a major opponent who spends a season's worth of episodes complicating the life of Stetson-wearing Kentucky-based U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens ( Timothy Olyphant).
In Season 2, Margo Martindale earned critical acclaim for her portrayal of Mags Bennett, matriarch of a pot-growing crime family in rural Harlan, Raylan's hometown. Last year, demented crime boss Robert Quarles ( Neal McDonough) brought violence and a dose of perversion to Harlan.
But when Season 4 launches on Tuesday, Jan. 8, things will be a little different.
"After Mags, and after Quarles," executive producer Graham Yost tells Zap2it, "we just didn't want to be a bad-guy-of-the-year show. We thought we could do something different for us, which is to make this season more of a mystery.
"We're doing something that we haven't done before, which is to start this season with a flashback to something that happened 30 years before. Basically a [parachutist] plummets out of the air, crashes on the street in Kentucky, and a bag splits open; out come bricks of cocaine.
"So the question becomes, 'What does that have to do with the present day?' Something happens in the first episode that you realize there's still something crazy about that, and that will form the spine of the season."
Along with Olyphant, returning are Walton Goggins as Raylan's friend/nemesis, criminal and former born-again messiah Boyd Crowder; Joelle Carter as Boyd's former sister-in-law and current lover, Ava Crowder; Nick Searcy as Art Mullen, Raylan's boss in the U.S. Marshals Service; Jim Beaver as former coal mine security agent and current Harlan sheriff Shelby Parlow; and Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts as U.S. Marshals Rachel Brooks and Tim Gutterson.
"This is a show about the guy in the hat," says Yost, "but it's also about Raylan and Boyd together. We decided we wanted each of them to have his own storyline for the first four episodes. They don't actually see each other until the fifth episode of the season. At that point, they're both going to be trying to solve this mystery from 30 years ago."
Joining the show this season are Patton Oswalt as Constable Bob Sweeney, a former high-school classmate of Raylan's who's now a local lawman; Joe Mazzello ( "The Pacific") as Preacher Billy, a local preacher whose anti-drug efforts put him in conflict with Boyd; and Ron Eldard as Colt, a combat veteran and military police sergeant who has a history with Boyd.
And, of course, there's plenty more trouble to be had from Arlo Givens ( Raymond Barry), Raylan's ne'er-do-well father, who's currently in prison.
Boyd is settled into his relationship with Ava, but Raylan is a free man, being now completely separated from ex-wife Winona Hawkins ( Natalie Zea). He had a fling last season with bar owner Lindsey Salazar ( Jenn Lyon), who's also his landlady.
As to whether this dalliance will continue or whether some other kind of romance may walk into Raylan's life, Yost says, "There will be [love]. Watch the first four episodes, and see what happens. That's all I'll say at this point."
Photo/Video credit: FX